Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating Black History Month

By Gino Blefari:

This week my travels found me starting Monday with an early morning Berkshire Hathaway Energy call followed by my typical WIG calls with the team. On Tuesday, I participated in several event planning meetings for the upcoming Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Summit, HomeServices’ Stronger Together event and Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention 2023. Yesterday, I joined the Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Sales Convention virtual review, and today I’m writing this post to you.

This week marked the final days of Black History Month 2023, which with your suggestions, turned into a collaborative effort to feature on the blog several inspiring Black leaders. It was so awesome to get feedback from Thoughts on Leadership readers like Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Homesale Realty CEO Rod Messick and Helen Cocuzza of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS®. For today’s post, I’m highlighting two more readers with incredible stories to tell.

In response to last week’s post, Kathy Edmonds Adderly of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Fox & Roach, REALTORS® wrote to me about her father, Wayne Edmonds, who was the first African American to letter in football at Notre Dame and has been featured in many books and articles. Sadly, as Kathy wrote to me, he passed away in September of last year, “but leaves a beautiful legacy behind.”

In 1952, Edmonds – a gifted, four-sport high school athlete – received a call from the University of Notre Dame offensive coordinator Bob McBride and was invited to visit the Notre Dame campus with high school teammate Jim Malone. After learning about the university, Edmonds’ decision to join Notre Dame was clear. “It was the best place to showcase my skills and get a good education,” he once said.

Though a few other African Americans had been selected to play football at Notre Dame, when Edmonds and running back Dick Washington took to the field during the 1953 season, they became the first Black players to ever appear in a game for the Fighting Irish. Edmonds and Washington received varsity monograms for their incredible performance throughout the season, during which Notre Dame was undefeated. Edmonds would go on to earn two more monograms and became starting left tackle for the team in 1955.

As Edmonds dominated on the field, Notre Dame head coach Frank Leahy helped him overcome Civil Rights challenges off the field. For instance, during the 1953 season, Notre Dame was set to play Georgia Tech when the match-up was put on hold because at the time, Georgia Tech couldn’t host a team with Black players on the roster. Leahy said they’d cancel the game if Edmonds and Washington weren’t able to play, so as a compromise, the game was moved to Notre Dame Stadium and the Fighting Irish defeated Georgia Tech 27-14 for a strong 4-0 start to the season.

Another email I received last week came from Debbie Gitlin, property manager at Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices PenFed Realty. After Helen Cocuzza brought the amazing accomplishments of Dr. Gladys West to my attention (Dr. West developed the GPS technology we use today,) Debbie then told me her sisters went to school with Dr. West’s daughter, Carolyn, and her parents worked at the Naval Proving Ground in Dahlgren, Virginia. Debbie highly recommended Dr. West’s book, “It Began with a Dream” and wrote: “If only everyone would take the time to read her book, learn from it, and put that knowledge in action, this country and world would be a much better place!”

Additionally, Ken Hoffman of Berkshire Hathaway HomeServices Bay Street Realty shared his story with me. He wrote: “Your blog brought back memories of the time when I was growing up in Nashville during the 1950s and 1960s.”

Ken attended Vanderbilt Law School from 1965-1968, and though most schools were segregated at the time, Vanderbilt had integrated its law school. This meant Ken was given a number of opportunities that he had a meaningful impact on him:  he was able to interact with students active in the Civil Rights Movement; he had the opportunity to watch Perry Wallace, a Nashville athlete with an incredible basketball ability, become the first Black athlete to receive a scholarship in the SEC; and he met Rev. Ralph Abernathy and members of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s staff. 

So, what’s the message? Throughout Black History Month, it’s been a joy to receive all these amazing stories. This is why Black History Month shouldn’t just last for the month of February; Black History should be an ongoing celebration of those who made and changed the course of history forever.

Respond to Thoughts on Leadership: Celebrating Black History Month

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